Chelsea Hawkins
April 01, 2015 9:18 am

Too often Native Youth feel disenfranchised and invisible. So, recent messages of love, of support, of encouragement flooding Twitter – messages from strangers and mentors and artists – can only serve to uplift those who may feel like they’re floating without a tether. And that’s what makes #DearNativeYouth so powerful.

Ihanktonwan Dakota woman, Brooke Spotted Eagle, told Mic she was inspired to start the hashtag after realizing intertribal/intra-tribal tensions could push young would-be activists away from the community. So #DearNativeYouth was an opportunity to tell them, boldly and clearly, “Yes, this community needs and wants you.” As Spotted Eagle told Mic, the Twitter movement “can send short letters of love to Native youth reminding them that even if they aren’t able to see it day to day, we love them so dearly and we want them here. We need them here.”

But this hashtag is also so important because Native Youth are disproportionately affected by suicide and cannot often access mental health care on reservations. These words of encouragement and love are more than just part of a moment online, but they can give light in darkness – and inspire youth to keep living.

I say this as a member of the Duwamish tribe, as someone who has grown up hyper-aware of my Native roots, and as someone who has definitely struggled to make sense of what it means to be indigenous in a world that constantly de-legitimizes my experiences. From the politics of federal recognition to the outdated, controversial and problematic notion of “blood quantum,” to serious and severe socio-economic challenges, there’s a lot that can leave us feeling as if we’re close to drowning.

Here’s how Twitter is responding in a really positive way:

Indigenous Flame radio host, Johnnie Jae, has more words of wisdom to share. Jae, who bravely admits she struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts often, writes in an open letter to Native Youth struggling with mental illness:

“If you are feeling like there is no hope, I want you to look in the mirror because you are hope. It took me a very long time to understand this, but the blood that flows through our veins is full of hope, love, defiance and sacrifice. We are here today because our ancestors refused to give up hope. We are here because they fought for us to survive and that defiance and will to survive lives on in our blood. We cannot let their love, courage and sacrifice be in vain.”

For all its problems, this is a community that loves. A community that wants to see its youth succeed. A community that has hope, even when it has historically been forgotten. This is a community that continues even after genocide, violence, discrimination and poverty attempted to erase it from history. This is a community marked by survival — and yet so many of our youth struggle to do just that.

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